Free Guy (2021)
Free Guy (2021)

Genre: Action Comedy and Sci-Fi Adventure Running Time: 1 hr. 55 min.

Release Date: August 13th, 2021 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Shawn Levy Actors: Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Lil Rel Howery, Joe Keery, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Camille Kostek, Britne Oldford, Mike Devine, Taika Waititi

 


 

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n Free City, sunglasses designate virtual superhero status. Wearers drive (or steal) cool cars, wear fashionable clothes, tote gargantuan guns, have bombshell babes at their side, and they don’t even have to obey laws. This description by average guy Guy (Ryan Reynolds) might sound like some freakish, futuristic fantasy, were it not for the abundance of advertising for the film, operating on the assumption that audiences will go into this picture knowing the setup: Free City isn’t a normal city. Guy has lived there his whole life, repeating a pleasant yet immutable set of activities, such as drinking coffee, greeting a friendly police officer, chatting with security guard pal Buddy (Lil Rey Howery), and working as a teller at a bank – perhaps similar to many people’s 9-to-5 lifestyles – but he’s also surrounded by continual chaos, including armored tanks rolling down the street, oversized mechs razing blocks, sports cars careening into buildings, heists racking up collateral damage, and all sorts of crimes soaked in bullets and bloodshed and explosions.

Guy is a nonchalant witness to these detonative atrocities, but he’s rarely directly involved. That’s because he’s actually an NPC (or non-playable character) in a video game called Free City, released by Soonami, run by eccentric mastermind Antwan Hovachelik (Taika Waititi). The only thing missing in Guy’s life is his dream girl, a longing based on the algorithms governing his programming. But all that is about to change when he bumps into the avatar of human player Millie Rusk (Jodie Comer), an AI engine builder who has been snooping around in the video game, attempting to dig up evidence of stolen intellectual property by the publisher.

“Who are you, really?” Guy is something of a glitch, or artificial intelligence run amok, but in a fun-loving, harmless manner. His routines parallel “Groundhog Day” or “Source Code” or “Edge of Tomorrow,” as he steadily begins to break free from NPC thresholds into the realm of self-awareness, deciding to conduct himself like a main character – much to the chagrin of the game’s programmers and moderators. Unfortunately for them, he’s not merely a hacked avatar or bug that can be isolated and eliminated; and unfortunately for the audience, he’s still just a computer program, limiting the potential for a satisfying resolution to his condition. Borrowing obvious concepts from “The Matrix,” “Ready Player One” and the Grand Theft Auto games, “Free Guy” builds a generic yet humorous world for its silly yet suitable premise – one nicely fleshed out for a simple comedy adventure. As it pulls pieces from countless other properties for its spoofing (including “Wreck-It Ralph,” “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” “Inception,” “Surrogates,” and “The Thirteenth Floor”), it tends to run into two major problems, however: derivation from movies that are already largely comical, and missed opportunities for parody when high-octane action grows too sincere.

The last act boasts a significant amount of CG boisterousness, threatening to distract from the humor that worked so well at the start, which is itself divided into two major storylines: Guy trying to be more than he is, and real world game creators struggling to unearth a betrayal by a rival. Strangely, the most effective component is the lighthearted love story between Millie and Guy as they sort out their respective existential crises, but it’s the one aspect that isn’t meant to resolve in the cleanest of ways (quite the conundrum for a comedy), since their romance not only represents something else, but it also takes place in a sci-fi environment of variable skins and coded instructions. Plus, the outside world is far less colorful and expansive, creating a disparity in amusement; the fake people inside Free City are far more interesting than the humans that interact with it from the comfort of their computer chairs. Similarly, the film bifurcates its time into conflict-free laughs and gun-blazing action sequences, hoping that it can do both well, but frequently muffling the hysterical interactions as well as the slow-motion-infused havoc. The conclusion ultimately proves that it can’t comfortably wrap up the stickiest of the love story dilemmas, rewriting motives to accommodate the rift between domains, but at least the jokes are consistent and the specific gags based on gamers and gaming tend to appear well versed.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10